The 10 Most Violated OSHA Standards

Employers Violate the Same Standards Year After Year

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) enforces a myriad of workplace standards.  Each year the agency produces a list of the ten standards employers violated the most during the previous fiscal year. The latest list is available from Safety and Health Magazine. It reflects violations committed during the 2019 fiscal year (October 1, 2018, to September 30, 2019).

OSHA's "top ten" list remains relatively unchanged from year to year. The standards that appear on the 2019 list are the same as those on the 2018 list. The only difference is that the Logout /Tagout standard moved up a notch (from #5 to #4) while the Respiratory Protection standard moved down one position (from #4 to #5).

Here is the 2019 "top ten" list. The standards are arranged in descending order beginning with Fall Protection, which generated the most violations. Standards 1, 3, 6, 8, and 10 apply only to employers in the construction industry. The remaining standards apply to employers in all industries.

Fall Protection, Standard 1926.501

Electrician with protective workwear, hardhat and safety harness
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Standard 1926.501 is designed to protect construction workers from fall-related accidents. Falls are a leading cause of work-related  injuries and can occur at all levels. Workers may tumble off high places like ladders and roofs or fall into or over machinery at ground level. Workers can also fall into underground holes or trenches.

The Fall Protection standard requires employers to provide fall protection systems when employees are working at elevations of six feet or more. Examples of such systems are guard rails, safety harnesses, safety nets, toe-boards, and hole covers. OSHA offers a variety of helpful resources at its fall protection webpage.

Hazard Communication, Standard 1910.1200

Factory worker working with dangerous materials
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OSHA's Hazard Communication Standard 1910.1200 is intended to prevent employee injuries caused by exposure to chemicals. It requires employers to educate employees about the hazards of chemicals by implementing a written hazard communication program.

To comply with this standard, employers must maintain safety data sheets on all hazardous substances used in the workplace. They must ensure those materials are properly labeled and teach workers how to handle them safely. Employers must also provide appropriate protective gear (such as gloves and masks), and train workers how the use it.

The Hazard Communication standard was amended in 2012 when new labeling requirements were added. It now requires manufacturers and importers to classify the potential hazards of chemicals they make or bring into the country and to describe those hazards on the label.

Scaffolding, Standard 1926.451

Worker carrying pipes on scaffolding
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Construction workers often perform work off the ground with the aid of a scaffold. Scaffolds that aren't constructed properly may collapse or tip over, injuring workers. Scaffold-related injuries are most likely to occur when employees are climbing on or off the structures or erecting or dismantling them.

The Scaffold standard 1926.451 protects workers from injuries caused by falls, falling objects, electrocution, or collapse of the scaffold. It requires guardrails or fall protection for employees working more than 10 feet above a lower level. Employers must ensure that all workers who use scaffolds receive the proper training.

Lockout /Tagout, Standard 1910.147

Lock out or tag out label for machinery
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Many workers are injured when machines they are servicing suddenly turn on or release stored energy. For example, a worker is cleaning a mixing machine when a fellow employee accidentally activates the "on" switch. The mixer begins to operate, seriously injuring the worker inside. Alternatively, a worker is doing maintenance work on a machine when he is shocked by electricity retained in the device's electrical system.

OSHA's Lockout /Tagout standard is intended to prevent such injuries. Both lockout and tagout devices prevent a machine from operating. A tagout also contains a label warning workers that the machine can't be operated until the tagout device is removed. Lockout or tagout devices may be used on equipment powered by electrical, hydraulic, or mechanical energy.

Respiratory Protection, Standard 1910.134

Male with protective wear grinding a fibre glass unit.
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Workers who inhale dust, vapor, fumes, gases, smoke or sprays may sustain lung injuries. Some may eventually develop occupational diseases like silicosis or asbestosis. OSHA's Respiratory Standard 1910.134 requires employers to protect workers exposed to contaminated air by providing respirators.

To comply with this standard, employers must identify airborne hazards in the workplace, select the proper respirator to safeguard workers, and train employees on how to use the equipment. Employers must also monitor the workplace to ensure that respirators are used and maintained properly.

Ladders, Standard 1926.1053

Lineman carrying a ladder
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Many workplace fall injuries involve ladders. Because ladders are widely used, OSHA's Ladder standard applies to employers in all industries.

Various types of ladders may be used in the workplace. Examples are stepladders, portable ladders, and fixed ladders. Employers can cut the number of accidents by reducing or eliminating the need for ladders. Many projects can be designed so that most of the work is performed on the ground.

Another option is to replace ladders with safer alternatives like aerial lifts. When alternatives aren't available or practical, employers must ensure that workers are adequately trained and that they use a type of ladder that's appropriate for the task. Employers must also provide proper accessories, like a safety belt and harness, when needed.

Powered Industrial Trucks, Standard 1910.178

Warehouse worker driving forklift
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Many workers are injured while using forklifts, lift trucks, and other mobile equipment to move heavy loads. OSHA calls such vehicles powered industrial trucks. Injuries may occur while employees are entering, exiting or maneuvering a vehicle or handling a load. Vehicle drivers may cause injuries to fellow employees. According to OSHA, about 25% of forklift-related fatalities are caused by the vehicle's overturn.

To prevent injuries, OSHA's Powered Industrial Trucks standard  requires employers to certify that all forklift drivers have received the proper training. This standard prohibits the use of forklifts when certain hazardous materials are present in the atmosphere.

Fall Protection - Training Requirements, Standard 1926.503

Apprentice builders in presentation in training facility
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Standard 1926.503 requires employers to provide fall prevention training to any worker exposed to fall hazards. Workers must be taught how to recognize the hazards of falling and how they can avoid injuries by using fall protection equipment properly.

Employers must keep a written record certifying that all workers exposed to fall hazards have received appropriate training. The record must include the workers' names, the date the training was completed, and the signature of the trainer or employer. Tips on how to set up a training program are available in OSHA's fall prevention training guide.

Machine Guarding, Standard 1910.212

Meat Slicing machine
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Many workers operate machines that cut, punch or shear materials such as food, metal, wood or plastic. These machines may contain parts that rotate, reciprocate (move up and down or back and forth), or move with a transverse motion (in a straight line). Some contain rotating parts (such as interlocking gears) that come together at nip points.

Cutting or punching machines can cause serious injuries, including  amputations. To prevent such injuries, OSHA's Machine Guarding standard requires employers to ensure that all hazardous machinery is properly guarded and that the guards are maintained. Four basic types of guarding devices are available: fixed guards, interlocked, adjustable, and self-adjusting.

Eye and Face Protection, Standard 1926.102

Female welder working using an angle grinder
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Construction workers may sustain eye or face injuries from flying particles, molten metal, caustic substances, gases, vapors, and other hazards. Standard 1926.102 requires employers to protect workers by providing safety glasses, goggles, or face shields. The devices must be suited to the tasks being performed. Safety glasses may be appropriate for a worker cutting wood but a worker doing welding work will need a face shield.